DION SANDERSON could miss the remainder of the season with the back problem that was troubling him during Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Wigan Athletic.

Sanderson played the full 90 minutes as the Black Cats lost at the DW Stadium, but Lee Johnson conceded after the game that he was complaining of pain in his back.

Sunderland’s medical staff have been assessing the problem in the last 48 hours, and Sanderson is not expected to be involved in Saturday’s crucial game against promotion rivals Blackpool.

It is feared the issue could take a few weeks to resolve, placing a question mark over Sanderson’s availability for all six of the Wearsiders’ remaining matches plus any future play-off games.

Losing Sanderson would be a major blow given his form over the last couple of months and the limited number of central-defensive options currently available to Lee Johnson.

Bailey Wright returned from a two-month injury lay-off on Tuesday, but Tom Flanagan remains unavailable because of a combination of foot and hamstring issues and both Jordan Willis and Arbenit Xhemajli have already been ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Luke O’Nien will almost certainly have to revert to his former role at centre-half, having started Tuesday’s game at right-back, although Sunderland are also short of numbers in the full-back positions after Conor McLaughlin’s hernia problems flared up again at Wigan.

McLaughlin was forced to pull out of the starting line-up after his mobility was seriously restricted when he tried to warm-up, and Johnson admits it is hard to plan what to do with the Northern Ireland international because his injury issues are so difficult to predict.

“He obviously had a hernia on one side, and then an injection into the pubis, and sometimes that leaves the other side weaker,” said the Sunderland boss. “I don’t know whether it will settle down or whether he will need to go (for a lay-off) again. It’s pretty frustrating because there were no warning signs. As soon as he started warming up, he just said, ‘I can’t run’.”

Sunderland head to Bloomfield Road on Saturday to take on a Blackpool side that have been in superb form since the turn of the year and are now just six points adrift of the Black Cats in the table with a game in hand.

Tuesday’s goalless draw with Accrington Stanley extended Blackpool’s unbeaten run to 15 matches, although Seasiders manager, Neil Critchley, will have to make at least one change for Saturday’s game with loanee Elliot Embleton unable to line up against his permanent employers.

Embleton has made 13 league appearances since joining Blackpool at the start of February, with his industrious midfield displays a key factor in his new side’s surge up the table.

“He’ll be a miss because he’s been excellent in the last few games,” said Critchley. “He’s been excellent for us, but I’ll have to think about what he’s going to do for the next few days when we’re putting our plan together – I might have to make sure he’s sitting in a dark room somewhere.”

Sunderland’s players and supporters will be watching tomorrow night’s events at Peterborough with interest, with the Posh kicking off the League One weekend schedule with a home game against Northampton Town.

With the Black Cats having failed to take advantage of their game in hand in midweek, Peterborough remain five points clear of Sunderland in second position in the table, with a better goal difference, having now played the same number of matches.